January 16, 2017
Yesterday in Philadelphia, an event called “Writers Resist: United for Liberty” filled to overflowing a 300-seat auditorium for more than two hours of readings about freedom of speech, racial justice, economic justice, and more. It was linked in spirit to the New York event sponsored by PEN America, but it had a uniquely local flavor, with passages from historical speeches and writings set in Philly. The organizers (and who knew writers could organize so well?) were Alicia Askenase, Stephanie Feldman, and Nathaniel Popkin.
There’s a good write-up at Philly.com, and many ongoing comments on the Facebook site and Twitter feed (@ResistPHL), as well as photos and videos. Most important, the plan is to carry on with further events and actions, beginning next month.
I can’t add much to the eloquence of the other voices, so I’ll simply quote three passages that I found most moving—ones that didn’t have specific connections to Philly but shared a universal resonance.
The program concluded with poet Tom Devaney reading Langston Hughes’s stirring poem “Let America Be America Again,” which includes these lines:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
A dream that’s never quite fulfilled but that we can, we must, keep aiming at—that states it perfectly.
Valerie Fox read a translation of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “When Evil-Doing Comes Like Falling Rain,” a reminder not to let ourselves be anesthetized by the quantity of outrages:
The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!” When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.
Finally, here’s a quotation that connects with my frequent screeds about American voting behavior. Kelly McQuain read this passage, among others, from Elie Wiesel’s 1999 speech “The Perils of Indifference”:
In a way, to be indifferent to [human] suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.
Let’s say that one more time in capitals: INDIFFERENCE IS NOT A RESPONSE.